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Posted on Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 6:01 a.m.

Ann Arbor City Council approves resolution of support for passenger rail in Michigan

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Ann Arbor City Council went on record Monday night to unanimously support the state of Michigan's efforts to develop and fund a comprehensive system of high-speed rail and intercity passenger rail services.


John Hieftje

Ryan J. Stanton |

Mayor John Hieftje, who sponsored the resolution, said the Michigan Municipal League is asking Ann Arbor and other communities to demonstrate support for the Michigan Department of Transportation's new application for funding from a $2.5 billion second round of federal high-speed rail grants.

"A tremendous amount of money has been put into high-speed rail," Hieftje said. "I think up to $4 billion has already been handed out. This next round is $2.5 billion. And as we've said before, the improvements that would take place for the high-speed corridor are exactly the same improvements that we need for commuter rail to work."

The MML will compile a set of local government resolutions of support from Ann Arbor and other communities throughout the state. It will be provided to MDOT for the grant application being submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The City Council's resolution states that developing a pipeline of national high-speed and intercity passenger rail projects will revitalize the domestic manufacturing industry and create additional American jobs. It also notes that ridership on Amtrak grew every year from 2000 through 2008, and 2010 is looking to be its best ridership year ever - demonstrating the increased demand for intercity passenger rail services.

The council's resolution also reaffirms the city's commitment to Ann Arbor's planned Fuller Road transit station, as well as the Ann Arbor-to-Detroit and Ann Arbor-to-Howell rail projects.

Click here to read the full resolution.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.


Chase Ingersoll

Sun, Sep 19, 2010 : 2:35 p.m.

I have not read the report. I am in the transportation industry and have personally trucked loads between Chicago, Ann Arbor and Toronto. I don't know that the geography and population between along this corridor and is similar enough to that of Japan in the 1960's or Europe in order to use as a comparison. I do know that the cost of sending freight on the existing infrastructure in this corridor is low. I also know that transporting people is very different from transporting goods. Right now I think the most cost effective way to transport people on this corridor is the double decker buses. Human transportation requires flexibility and buses have that. Trains have huge infrastructure costs. I don't know that we have an under-capacity of freight track on this corridor. I would like to see the report and know the assumptions it makes and the data upon which the assumptions and conclusions are based.

Bob Johnson

Thu, Aug 5, 2010 : 11:21 a.m.

There are many estimates and projections of the costs of rail lines. Just to inject some real-world numbers into this discussion, the light rail to be built in Detroit will cost $37 million per mile. See: High=speed rail will cost much more, of course.

Macabre Sunset

Sat, Jul 24, 2010 : 11:03 p.m.

Stephen, You've focused on the high-speed Detroit-to-Chicago proposal. I have less problem with that because Chicago is a destination with sufficient density - this would be of great benefit to Michiganders near stops. My only question there is why you believe the cost projections. These projects rarely end up costing anywhere near what the initial proponents claim. That may be why private investment has failed to materialize. I've studied the Wally line much more closely, read all the reports that have come out. That proposal is the height of irresponsibility. The studies show that it isn't remotely cost-effective. The ridership survey assumed a rail upgrade so that the train could travel at more than freight speeds, but that would have greatly increased the costs. Yet when that upgrade was removed to lower the cost, no adjustment was made to the assumed ridership. Also, when presented with the fact that upgrades to the roads around the rural stations would be required to handle the expected ridership, the committee said this was a Livingston County problem and should not be factored into the cost. I hope the high-speed Detroit-Chicago proponents have more integrity.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Fri, Jul 23, 2010 : 3:38 p.m.

@Rasputin wrote: "Translation: I'm a banker so trust me. Not!" For 22 years I used to say that I was a Bank President or Bank Holding Company President, and for 21 years that was an honorable profession. Then the Wall Street "investment banks" like Goldman Sachs suddenly overnight became "banks" and being a "Bank President" became a disreputable profession, so now I usually just say that I am a "Community Bank President". If you see some flaw in my logic as to the financial viability of the rail project speak up; the person who delivers the message doesn't change the validity of it.


Fri, Jul 23, 2010 : 11:41 a.m.

"I am the President & CEO of University Bank, which manages $8.75 billion in assets." Translation: I'm a banker so trust me. Not!


Fri, Jul 23, 2010 : 11:31 a.m.

I like trains, but I cannot see where they will find the money to build these systems. Stephen, you mentioned the M1 Light rail project. That project proposes to have light rail on the surface of Woodward Avenue. I don't think that they have thought that through. Houston built a similar system, with hilarious results. Cars forget that their are trains on the street. See this video:

Mr. Tibbs

Fri, Jul 23, 2010 : 11:10 a.m.

well now mr. ranzini. maybe yer da guy I need to talk to then. why izzit the U.of M. enjoys city bennies yet pay nothing to help out? local law shuts down streets and guides sports traffic in and out, and the city employees recieve O.T. for signage and the hnadling of traffic lighting. so howzabout you do the math and start stumping for a measly TEN CENTS, from every sporting ticket sold to help the city with its financial problems? I did it at the old football seating of 101701. at.25 of a dollar. it amounted to a little less than what was a projected deficit years ago. a liitle better than a quarter mil. so the "U" built the town. but that doesn't mean it gets off scot free while everyone else picks up the tab, and the "U" has millions in donations and has to spend it on never ending construction projects.....well?

Mr. Tibbs

Fri, Jul 23, 2010 : 10:56 a.m.

wonderful. I wonder whose land will be "emminent domained" for the greater cause? you know, there has been talk in a major political party about a second amendent solution to the countries troubles. I wonder if these people have thought about the phrase, "politics is local"? work hard do all the right things, and still, somebody powerful in government, who thinks we need something takes it all away. is it any wonder why, the Colt Peace Maker was called the great equalizer? once the trigger is pulled, ain't no amount of money buying back that bullet. a second amendment solution.....sounds more and more viable every day we find out how much waste and stupidity is in our governments. aren't these people supposed to be educated? aren't they supposed to have a "feel" for the populace? or do they surround themselves with like minded and close their world off to anyone who may have a differing point of view? quite like this blog-o-sphere where if you have a valid argument, with an opposing point of view, it gets removed for being "off topic" great place to be....


Fri, Jul 23, 2010 : 9:03 a.m.

@ Stephen Lange Ranzini, your just another Politican saying noth'in!


Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 9:23 p.m.

I just don't understand the vision here. Our desire for freedom and self reliance has fueled our desire for individual means of transportation. I suppose if I had a rail system which could get me moved from multiple point A's to multiple point B's, with 5 minute intervals of departure, where I could board and select my destination, where I could decide to stop and get groceries on the way home and the conductor would hold the train as I loaded and unloded my purchased items, where I could load and store my golf clubs for league night, where the golf course could be one of the destinations accounted, where the riding compartment would be as clean as I left it the last time I was there, where I could set my own HVAC for comfort, and where my assigned riding compartment would not be used by anyone who would mess it up, then I would understand. Is this desire for passenger rail in Ann Arbor a nostalgic one? It certainly cannot be made more efficient than car from a personal time and effort perspective, and perhaps not from a monetary and energy perspective if ridership is low. Now, if you want to talk future transit system, with a vision that supports my desires and needs for individual control and freedom, then I'll listen. I'm up for some kind of mass moving road/rail system which allows me to drive my individual pod to a system loading point, the system then interfacing with my pod and taking me close to where I want to go in an efficient manner, then ejecting my pod to an off ramp where I would resume self control. How 'bout some forward thinking, not backward?


Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 1:57 p.m.

Lots of quick opinions being presented as fact here in this thread. Everybody's suddenly an expert when a forum is available. Thanks for the bits that make it actually worth reading, Mr Ranzini and a couple others.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 11:29 a.m.

@stunhsif: As my profile notes (click on my name and you can read it) I am well qualified to opine on the merits of venture capital investments. I am the President & CEO of University Bank, which manages $8.75 billion in assets.


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 9:49 p.m.

@StehpenRanzini, Let us know what bank you run so we make certain we don't buy stock in your bank. And you rely on government information to make this decision? I'll try my luck at the Motor City Casino before I would invest in rail. In 2002 dollars you stated it would cost 1.1 billion dollars. You will never, and I repeat never get money to fund this red herring. Good Day, No Fuzzy Headed Thinking Necessary

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 7:54 p.m.

Several commentators are against investment in inter-city rail. As a bank president who has overseen $275 million in venture capital investments in my 22 year career I strongly support building a high speed rail line (and high speed freight) between Chicago, Ann Arbor, Detroit & Toronto. I believe that this would be a good investment and that private equity should back it. The M1 Rail Project on Woodward Avenue in Detroit is a good example of a private rail project that makes economic sense. All railroads in the U.S. were built with private risk capital. The massively subsidized U.S. Superhighway system has crowded out these investments, but the case for high speed inter-city rail is compelling for many reasons. The Japanese high speed rail system (they started building it in 1962 when Made In Japan was a byword for cheap plastic crap) was privatized and that company was sold for $90 billion to private investors. The most recent detailed study of the economics of the Detroit to Chicago high speed rail proposal indicates that the line would be profitable. See According to the study, after 10 years, it would be generating an annual profit of $18 million on $113 million in revenue and after 20 years, a $32 million profit on $129 million in revenues (using 2002 dollars). While the capital cost would be $1,106 million in 2002 dollars), a zero coupon bond or equity component of the project and tax-free municipal financing along with the substantial and very valuable real estate development rights at and around the stations, could pay for the system. The Toronto leg, paid for by the Canadian government, would further enhance the overall economics of the project beyond the numbers presented above. As noted above, in many countries, railroads are a for profit activity. Unfortunately, Michigan is the Sahara of Venture Capital, so there may not be sufficient private equity capital to pull this off. In the past, when there was a good business idea searching for capital, the backers were sent to Wall Street where after much back-room deal-making the money was raised (just as the money was raised to build many of the railroads in the U.S.). Unfortunately, the geniuses on Wall Street decided a number of years ago that slicing, dicing and buying pieces of debt paper with massive leverage was a more profitable activity than raising the capital to build up good businesses (a/k/a making money the old fashioned way). That is a major reason why our country has not grown any new jobs for the past decade. I applaud city council's resolution in favor of the grant application. Especially in a great depression, where the country should be searching out good investments and valuable projects to back with the public purse I agree with some famous words from the last Depression that Perhaps you will think the proposals too ambitious, too idealistic, altogether too grand. But isnt this a merit?

Jay Thomas

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 4:24 p.m.

I wish we could have high speed rail but the economies of scale necessary to make it self sustaining don't exist here.


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 2:43 p.m.

resolutions, everyday a new stupid resolution, ok then, how about a resolution to fix the stadium bridge, how about a resolution to reaffirm their commitment to provide SERVICES to the people, like LEAF clean up and PUBLIC SAFETY.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 2:26 p.m.

I guess Silly Steffi is pro-wally. What a surprise.

Carl Duncan

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 2:18 p.m.

Wouldn't it be cheaper to just lease some busses to go back and forth from Detroit to Chicago? Also "high-speed rail" becomes oxymoronic the more stops that are added to a route. Amtrak can never improve upon the remarkable experience of riding the rails in an open box car. The pace is slower, and the box car ride is remarkably loud. Yet I prefer the freights to an air conditioned Amtrak coach.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 2:06 p.m.

Part of this inane resolution includes support for the Wally train (Wally being an Australian epithet meaning stupid). But the studies made of the Wally train show that it's not even remotely financially viable. Like it or not, we've designed a society of suburbs, meaning people will need their cars to get to the train stations, which can't be numerous enough to be convenient to all that many people. The PC amongst us can whine all they want about the evils of suburbia, but that's the way we live. On the other end, it's not possible to place train stations all that near most job locations. People will need an extensive revision to the bus system to make a train useful - and even then there's not much job density compared to a major urban center. Let's say you get Wally running. Right now, it's a 45-minute commute from your average Livingston County home to the south side of Ann Arbor. Now, use Wally. Let's say it's a ten-minute drive to the station, another ten minutes for parking, waiting for the train, another 40 for the train ride to the proposed Plymouth station, another ten to get off and wait for the bus, another 30 to meander slowly across town using the bus (if you're lucky and don't have to change buses). Now you've made your 45-minute commute 100 minutes. That's almost ten hours a week sacrificed. And that's why even assuming 1,000 daily riders for Wally is chimeric at best. It will only work for a small percentage of those who would be inclined to use it. To make commuter trains work, they have to be convenient. For that, you need much greater densities on both ends than you'll find in this area. Give me an example in America of a train system that works with populations as small as we have.


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 2:05 p.m.

@James A Boucher, You hit it on the head. Great ideas. As an Amtrak A2-Chicago passenger, I applaud your ideas. Obtaining priority for passenger trains would be huge!


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 1:55 p.m.

eJohn, You are correct. Ever try getting a cab in Ann Arbor when the Chicago Amtrak comes in at midnight? To quote Edward R Murrow...and his Ann Arbor based ghost... "Good Night.....and Good Luck!" Because it's next to impossible. The cab companies say it's because the timing of the train isn't dependable. Well, sitting in a KMart parking lot isn't making them much money either! Chances are a lot better they will get a fare at the Amtrak station!


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 11:33 a.m.

You know, we used to have a wonderful rail transit system in this city, county and state. But, we intentionally destroyed it in favor of cars, busses and planes. We destroyed it so thoroughly, that now it will cost billions to rebuild it. Well, expressing support doesnt cost much

John of Saline

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 10:58 a.m.

Let's turn to Amtrak, which has never even come close to supporting itself financially. To be fair to Amtrak, it is forced by Congressional mandate to maintain long-range money-losing routes. Also, they are often late through no fault of their own; the freight railroads own most of the rail lines will delay Amtrak trains for their own.


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 10:49 a.m.

Get the mayor and council a toy train each and maybe they'll stop this stupidity. Those in favor of this are looking to build bureaucracies and/or make money at the expense of the taxpayer. See how much support you get if all the land on each side of the rail is condemned through eminent domain. I have yet to seen anything on how this joke is to be funded in construction, operation, and maintenance.

James A. Boucher

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 10:47 a.m.

I favor improved passenger service from Southeast Michigan to Chicago, but we really don't need high speed rail to reach that goal. We could use some track improvement and the closing of unnecessary grade crossings, to be sure. What we really need,however, is (1) Obtaining priority for passenger train right of way over freight trains; and (2) consolidation of stations. For example, we now have three stops in Oakland County and two in Wayne where they should each have one. Similarly, stops in Albion, Dowagiac and New Buffalo can be eliminated as the first can be served by Kalamazoo and the others by Niles. This would redoce Michigan stops from 16 to 10 and very significantly reduce the travel time between Southeast Michigan and Chicago at far less cost.


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 9:50 a.m.

Safe, real, high speed rail requires the elimination of grade crossings, so people don't have the opportunity to "out run the train" to cross tracks. It also requires isolation of the tracks from pedestrians, usually by elevating the tracks or fencing them on both sides of the tracks. Of course, the tracks themselves must be designed for high speed. Lastly the tracks need to be separate from freight lines - not the case with Amtrak. All of these requirements are in plain sight with existing high speed systems. Putting this infrastructure in place will take a long time, just like it did in places that now have such service. It makes sense to have as few stops as possible on high speed lines. Otherwise they are not high speed. I think the best places in our country for such stops is at airports where air and several ground transportation options already exist. Ann Arbor has enough interest and Amtrak riders to possibly justify a light rail connection, but it will face competition from other communities for the likely small number of city stops allowed on a high speed lines. The city will also need to accommodate a different set of tracks if it gets to be a stop. The resolution of support is a harmless gesture. We do not need to worry a lot about it impacting our lives for a while.


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 9:11 a.m.

>> quit putting money into any road system except a toll road. That is a very interesting point and a view that I hadn't even thought of. However, if we can't afford to keep up the road system now, how could we possibly think that we could afford a rail system? Two wrongs don't make a right. I really hope this thing can somehow happen. Eventually, change must happen. Whether it is new fuels or better mass transit. Things can't go on the way they are forever.


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 9:01 a.m.

Can you print the actual ridership numbers for those using Amtrak from Detroit-to-Ann Arbor and back? Also, can you report similar figures for travel from Ann Arbor-to-Chicago and back? I question whether the number of users is sufficient to warrant the expense of building a high speed railway and of its operation. Though new ridership may be attracted by a high speed railway, have reliable potential numbers been published? When was the last survey done and how well was it designed? One problem facing high speed rail travel between Ann Arbor and Detroit is the paucity of stations. With only one station in Detroit and in Ann Arbor, riders must depend on public transportation or taxi cabs in order to complete their trips. I am not sure that timely and inexpensive transportation from station to destination will be available. In a practical sense, then, the time and money that the rider spends traveling from the station to the final destination may negate the benefits that riders derive from a rapid trip between Ann Arbor and Detroit. Do we know how much it will cost to operate a high speed railway? With projected use how expensive will tickets have to be in order to avoid an operational deficit? Do we know if the ticket price will be acceptable for most of the potential ridership? How will the high speed rail system be financially supported if ticket revenue fails to cover the costs of operation? For the above reasons I do not consider high speed rail service between Detroit, Ann Arbor and Chicago to be justified on a need, service and financial basis.


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 8:59 a.m.

The big problem that no one ever thinks about is how are people going to get where they're going AFTER they get off the train??? The two rail proposals that I know of will either dump you at Ann Arbor's Amtrak station or somewhere around the corner of Plymouth and Barton. THEN what?? Wait for bus? Call a cab? Walk three miles to my office? How do I get from those middle-of-nowhere places to where I'm going? Of course, expecting anyone in Ann Arbor's government to actually THINK something through to its obvious conclusion is probably asking way too much from them, isn't it?


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 8:43 a.m.

"... We are too spread out in this country for rail transit to be "practical." No, we're not. In southern Michigan, rail service ought to be accessible to the large majority of residents. The overall network would also include metro rail networks, even in smaller cities, as well as the deployment of short-range buses as local and rural connectors (similar to what Amtrak now does). It's all a matter of how we choose to allocate transportation funding at the federal, state and local levels. Automobile travel receives huge subsidies by way of government largesse, without which the current auto industry could not survive. That will, by eventual necessity, have to change, as automobiles become less practical and less affordable in the decades ahead. Without creating a viable future for rail transit, our children and subsequent generations will get around primarily by walking and biking everywhere.


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 8:40 a.m.

A2 City Council is spending all their time on issues that don't impact their city right now. What a joke and waste of time and money. The rail infrastructure would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to repair and make it operational and that would still not guarantee that it would be self sustaining because people are not going to use it when gas is so cheap. Yes, I know the usual posters here will say raise the gas tax 100% so we can fix the roads and put in rail. I agree with Craig Lounsbury, Michigan's population is not dense enough to make rail profitable. You have A2,Detroit,Oakland County suburb cities,Grand Rapids and that is about it. Not enough jobs or commuters up in Flint or Saginaw and Traverse City is simply too far away and would not have enough traffic. The only lanes that would have a chance in turning a profit would be A2 to/from Detroit and perhaps some lanes from Oakland County to/from Detroit. But the cost would be in the hundred of millions and with fuel as cheap as it is it will not be self sustaining for many many years. We have too many other issues to deal with than trying to fund this "pink elephant".


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 8:37 a.m.

why would they want to spend all that money when is willing to pay the comunitys that it goes through and put people to work. and save taxes money for something else


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 7:49 a.m.

@ Craig Lounsbury, if you build it, they'll come!

Marshall Applewhite

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 7:41 a.m.

Ah yes.... Let's turn to Amtrak, which has never even come close to supporting itself financially. Also, I'm not surprised about the usual people saying, "I traveled on a train in France once, and it was AMAZZZZZING!1!!" as justification for adding rail travel in the US. As usual, these people are not using their heads.


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 7:24 a.m.

I like the idea. But what I really like is how A2 is going to help fund this thing - and I don't live there. It makes perfect sense that if the number of users can't support it, that everyone else should help pay. Nice business model.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 7:11 a.m.

Europe and Japan have population densities 8-10 times that of the United States. China has a density nearly 5 times that of the United States. We are too spread out in this country for rail transit to be "practical".


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 7:09 a.m.

Congratulations. Step one is complete. Let's me this forward. @ Awakened, "nothing left to steal"? Would you mind explaining what you mean? @ Macabre Sunset, When you look at Central Europe and Asia, train travel is actually up because people realize what great, cheap alternative it is to wasting tons of gas sitting on the autobahns of the world. Train travel is fast, timely, reliable, cheap, and safer than travel by car anytime! When I go to Europe, I love the fact that I don't need my car keys!

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 6:54 a.m.

High speed rail makes sense on the eastern sea board and thats about it in my opinion. There isn't enough population density to justify it in the midwest.


Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 6:53 a.m.

I am in support for a Detroit-Ann Arbor rail line. There is nothing left to steal in Detroit.

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 : 5:58 a.m.

A 19th-Century solution to a 21st-Century problem. Makes sense that the Council would support this.